Photo: Shayne Gray

New exhibit has designers wear their heart on a sleeve

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By Sienna Vittoria Lee-Coughlin

For Toronto Design Exchange curator Filomena Natale Gasparro, fashion is more than just wearing pretty dresses; it’s a language through which we tell our life story.

Gasparro curates Fashioning Life: Wear Your Story, which displays 14 dresses by separate women. Each woman was given a blank canvas dress and was asked to illustrate an important event or experience on it that represents who they are today. The dresses resemble iconic fashion silhouettes of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Gasparro is graduating this year from Ryerson University with a master’s degree in fashion. “I enrolled in this program so I could do this project as my thesis,” she said at the exhibition’s opening party. The program allowed her to learn the creative elements but also theories that relate to fashion and its history.

Prior to her studies at Ryerson, Gasparro worked as a visual artist. “I did a project at one point where I actually painted women’s dresses while they were wearing them,” she said. “The idea of working with women and their clothing goes way back.”

“I see fashion as so many things,” she said. “It’s a mask you can hide behind, but it can also reveal.”

Looking at each of the dresses reveals something about the lives of women who designed them.

First-year master of fashion student Leonie Daignault-Leclerc lost both of her parents to cancer at a young age. Her dress features a self-portrait on the front bodice, and a silhouette of a family on the back.

“The swirling colour around my face represents the love that they gave me, because they had extraordinary values,” she said.

The illustrated fire on the dress’ stomach represents her pain, and the angels perched above show her parent’s everlasting presence.

“It took about four days to make,” she said. “I just sat down, let my emotions come up, and I just made it.”

Other dresses have themes that touch on international politics. Second-year master of fashion student Isabel Fernandez’s dress has the Venezuelan skyline printed on the skirt’s hemline.

“I moved to Canada a year and a half ago,” said Isabel Fernandez, the designer of this dress. “The situation is so critical there. Every day I’m so worried for my family.”

Resting on top of the dress is the red, blue and yellow cap she wore while protesting the Venezuelan government on the streets. Blue balloons are gathered at the hem of the dress, making the dress seemingly float.

A dress situated near the back of the gallery – designed by second-year master of fashion student Maria R. Dal Cin – has a sheath of soft pink chiffon floating to the floor, juxtaposed with a dark, angular suit vest layered overtop.

“It’s representative of the male-female dynamics within the working world,” she said.

Marianne Urvari’s dress is embellished with black and white photos of her family back in Hungary before the revolution. “This experience reminded me that I need to focus on knowing more about my family,” she said.

When viewers look at these dresses, Gasparro hopes people will view clothing in a new way. For these artists, these articles of clothing tell intimate stories of their life.

“I want them to read the clothes and understand fashion,” she said. “I hope that when they look at fashion they don’t just see the superficial surface qualities but they try to understand where that garment came from, and perhaps why it was born as it was born.”

Fashioning Life: Wear Your Story runs at the Design Exchange until March 8, 2015.

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